The weekend approaches and the religious authorities of the capital and Georgia prepare the area around the Church of the Assumption of Metekhi for the Orthodox celebrations at the end of the following day.
That morning, like a meteorological miracle, the gray and rainy atmosphere in which we had arrived had given way to an opposite one, limpid, with a blue and sunny sky to match.
The wind had increased since dawn. It annoyed city officials who struggled with huge iconographic posters intended for affixation atop the high wall next to the statue of the founding king of Tbilisi, Vakhtang Gorgasali.
The posters avoided the final destination as if it were an encounter with the Devil. Only with astuteness and mechanical persistence, the men managed to dominate them, even so, before the end of the mass taking place in the mystic interior of the temple.
A voluminous priest in a black cassock and a long white beard draped over two huge hanging crucifixes leaves him just as we prepare to enter. Even in a hurry, he examines us from top to bottom and confirms that we would hardly be part of his flock.
A Mass in Good Orthodox Fashion
Inside, the dozens of candles that the faithful lit, accentuated a sacred gold. They generated the welcoming atmosphere in which they grew up praying, with the Bible or notebooks in their hands, or with a hopeful look at the images of Christ and the saints.
The priest on duty resurfaces from the depths of the nave. He gathers the flock in front of him and resumes the religious service where he left it. One of your believers holds a child in her arms with her back to the altar. Intrigued by our photographic hustle, the baby stares at us for minutes on end, never complaining about the inverted conversion in which her mother kept her.
The scene we were looking at was part of Tbilisi as usual, but both the South Caucasus country and its secular capital have undergone recent sudden changes.
From the Soviet Legacy of Josef Stalin to the Rose Revolution
From 1921 to 1991, Georgia was part of the Soviet sphere. The most notorious and Machiavellian of Soviet leaders, Josef Stalin, had been a Georgian from Gori, originally named Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili. Eduard Shevardnadze, another Georgian, held the position of Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1991.
He was responsible for many of the important decisions of the presidency perestroikika by Mikhail Gorbachev. Unsurprisingly, four years after Georgian independence in December 1991, Shevardnadze won Georgia's second presidency. Another eight years passed.
The Georgian population grew fed up with what their nation was becoming, a virtually failed state. In November 2003, the Georgian people were completely saturated. He took to the streets in successive demonstrations gathered in front of the Tbilisi parliament.
At one point, a group of protesters led by revolution leader Mikheil Saakashvili peacefully invaded parliament. Armed with roses, the speakers interrupted a speech by Eduard Shevardnadze.
The latter fled with his security guards, declared a State of Emergency and tried, in vain, to mobilize the armed forces and the police. He ended up announcing his resignation. Afterwards, a crowd of over XNUMX people celebrated the revolutionary success with fireworks and rock concerts.
In 2004, widespread support from USA, from several European countries and the self-proclaimed philanthropist tycoon George Soros and his Open Society Foundation, secured the election of Saakashvili as Georgia's third president.
A Prodigious Recovery with its Back to the Russia
Saakashvili immediately implemented policies of secession with the Russian sphere and of approximation to Western Europe. Despite several setbacks, spurred on by a strong expansion of the banking sector, the country's economy recovered and came into line, while the plague of corruption was mitigated.
In the World Bank ranking, Georgia rose from 122nd country to 18th. For a long period, foreign investment remained at around three billion dollars and the country's annual growth was 9.5%.
This sudden escalation of prosperity did not make Georgians rich overnight, but it did generate long-awaited relief considering that, before the revolution, the official salary of a Georgian minister was $75.
The social openness and entrepreneurship thus generated continue to flourish in the old and elegant streets of Tbilisi. Soviet buildings maintain their place.
USSR Architectural Legacy vs New Controversial Buildings
We stayed in a hotel just above the parliament, so when we descend towards the centre, the successive columns of the massive building are the first architectural element of that era that assails us.
Many more are emerging, notably those at the current headquarters of the Bank of Georgia, once the Georgian Ministry of Highway Construction, completed in 1975, with a look of eccentric legos work.
The Soviet “monos” are, however, challenged by others more daring than many of the city's inhabitants wanted. This is the case of the new Music Theater and Exhibition Hall, in Rhike Park, a pair of tubular structures designed by the Italian couple Maximiano and Doriana Fuksas.
Vladimir, the Armenian driver who at times seemed quite nostalgic for Soviet times, informs us that they called him “the worms” and that construction had been suspended.
For a long time after we discovered them, passersby continued to pass by, a little suspicious of the intentions of the “mouths” of “Aliens” in which the huge and invasive buildings ended.
The Bridge of Peace over the river mtkvari. The Possible Peace.
The Mtkvari River flows just ahead, along a valley that has carved out century after century. It is crossed by a bridge no less controversial. Despite its name, and like the Music Theater and Exhibition Hall, the Bridge of Peace has raised a wave of criticism from many quarters.
It generated accusations, in particular, of being too exuberant for the city's historic district and of obscuring its historic attractions. Nevertheless, friends and young couples, whether foreigners or city people, walk through it, delighted with the lighting that comes on as they pass and with the curvilinear shapes that they use to compose new ones. selfies.
The historic heart of Tbilisi rises from the other side of those who come from the “worm-occupied” bank of the Music Theater and Exhibition Hall. It stretches between the opposite bank and the steep slope of Sololoaki on which the fortress of Narikala stands.
The Ancient Core of Tbilisi. On either side of Mtkvari.
Its streets and alleys were shaped in times when they were home to a crossroads of Eurasian trade routes. They are bordered by medieval, classic, Art Nouveau buildings, even in this ancient area, also by some Stalinists and Modernists.
We took a cable car up to the heights of the fortress above. We leave the cabin at the foot of the silver statue Kartlis Deda, the Mother of Georgia from Soviet times, which overlooks the great city of the nation. From there, we admire the old, colorful and harmonious houses, “the worms” and the Ponte da Paz.
Also the church of Metekhi and the succession of historic terraced mansions perched on top of the high, steep bank of the river. And, a few meters behind, the facade of a hyperbolic Soviet building, unfolded in countless blue and white windows.
In the Old Town, bars, cafes, wine and craft houses, inns and even nightclubs multiplied, some businesses more picturesque than others, all with the same mission: to win the attention of backpackers who spread the fame of Tbilisi, proclaimed without ceremonies, the most open and dynamic of the capitals of the Caucasus.
Tamara Giorgadze and the Highs and Lows of Georgian Independence
Still, much has changed again. The economy stopped growing at the levels of the years following the revolution. With the deceleration in the middle of the capitalist model, individualism and greed increased as well as unemployment and general instability in the lives of Georgians. Tamara Giorgadze was born in Tbilisi in 1985 and is our host in her town.
He explains to us that a certain nostalgia has gripped the generations of his parents and grandparents. “Look at the difference: my father is from a village in western Georgia, he came here to study. He got a house in Tbilisi, but as the regime only allowed one house per family, he and my mother got divorced so they could have one house each.
Older people enjoy life now and find them yearning for the Soviet Union. Most even continue to respect the Stalin. At that time, they had their money but could not spend it because there was nothing to buy.
When I was little, caramels came to us from time to time from Turkey. It was so rare that it almost felt like Christmas to us. My generation and I already see things differently. As long as there is money, we can buy everything but the average salary is still only 350 or 400€.
You can see what we need to evolve... Anyway, in Georgia, nothing will ever be easy, let alone guaranteed. We are a small country but we are in a strategic place that has plenty. Everyone wants to control us.”
The Baths and Georgian Wine. Two Valuable Attributes of Tbilisi.
We descended from the fortress that so often ensured Tbilisi's resistance to its foothills. We detected a more obvious Muslim influence in the Jumah mosque, from which its lush brick minaret stood out.
At the base, a cluster of men accompanies two others who face off in a game of backgammon played on a wall of the city's historic thermal baths, where both residents and travellers-traders have become accustomed to relaxing.
The sulfur and the orbeliani remain, the latter closer to the foot of the slope that housed the fortress and to the waterfall of sulfur Dzveli that flows from it. An additional building brings together the public baths. In the old-fashioned way, it forces patrons to separate according to gender.
It is already rare in Tbilisi where, in an increasingly less regimented way, lovers show their passion without great moral restrictions, inspired by the most avid wine stimuli in the Caucasus. Georgia takes seriously its claim that it is the world's cradle of wine production.
In line with this, cellars and wine houses that sell and offer the best nectars in the country have spread throughout Tbilisi. But if wine is the product of choice on the streets of Metekhi, others are displayed with equal zeal and pride. The fruit in general, the grapes in particular, when in season.
Throughout the year, the colored churcchela, a curious derivative of both. When we first saw them, we thought they were church candles. Until Tamara enlightened us and we made a point of trying them out.
A kind of fluted sausage, the shape of that famous Georgian sweet is made with a mixture of grape juice and flour. It involves a delicious nut filling.
A Mystical Procession of the Old Orthodox Faith
we buy some churkhalas already about dusk. We continue along Betlemi Street, again pointing to the area of the church of Metekhi and the huge Plaza de Europa that, on the other side of the river, announces it.
As we approached, the religious procession that we had seen being prepared was in full swing and cluttered the stone bridge. The protagonists were believers in picturesque Orthodox costumes who, by candlelight, sang liturgical litanies.
As much as Georgia and Tbilisi changed (for better or for worse), a good part of Georgians will always be able to find the comfort of its ancient tradition and religiosity.